It is 7:15 a.m. on a Saturday morning and I am up early, marking tests from school. This can be both encouraging (when students have worked hard, heeded advice, revised well and succeeded) and discouraging (especially when students have clearly not worked hard, have disregarded advice, not revised and consequently have not fulfilled their potential.)

As a teacher, what I find the most frustrating is when I have laboured a point, underlining its importance, explaining its relevance and generally highlighting something in as many different ways and formats as I can possibly find only to find this completely ignored by students. I find myself writing comments such as “you need to pay more attention in lessons” or “it would help if you heeded instructions more” over and over again.

The phrase that comes most clearly to mind is from Hebrews 2:1. I learnt this in the 1984 NIV translation which says “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” However, more recent translations of the NIV say “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” The language teacher in me pricks up her ears at that: there is a difference between the comparative (more careful) and the superlative (most careful). Thayer’s definition of that word (perissoterōs) says ‘especially, above others’. I can see why the translation has been amended. I also like the Message’s version: “It’s crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift off.”

Giving our full attention to what we have heard is not just something for school children. It is a vital principle for life. We need to pay attention to what God is saying. We need to hear and to heed what He says and apply it to our everyday lives if we are not to drift away. Drifting is not intentional. But it requires perseverance and effort not to drift. If we do not pay attention to our spiritual life, it will deteriorate. As James has reminded us, we need to do more than just hear the word, we need to obey it!